One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

First lady do’s and don’ts

It’s odd that an op-ed like Lauren Stiller Rikleen’s in the Post today — urging a more formal definition of the role and responsibilities of the president’s spouse — should fail to make explicit the pattern that its author identifies in her survey of what some recent first ladies have and have not been expected to do:

Betty Ford was criticized for her strong advocacy of women’s rights, including her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion rights. Yet she was beloved for her courageous battle against breast cancer and her successful fight against alcohol and prescription drug addiction. When Rosalynn Carter sat in on Cabinet meetings as her husband’s protective observer, the public reaction was negative, notwithstanding the intensely close relationship she and the president shared. She served with distinction, however, as the honorary chair of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and drew international attention to the plight of refugees in Cambodia and Laos.

Perhaps it’s just too obvious, but it’s worth spelling out plainly: initiatives of which “the public” approved had to do with things like health and caretaking; while those for which women were criticized involved a substantive policymaking role, and/or attempted to assert women’s rights.

Chances are, Michelle Obama’s responsibilities will include more than flowers and babies.

UPDATE: Eve Fairbanks at The XX Factor wisely suggests that, instead of constricting the “First Lady’s” possible role by defining it, we do away with that whole “Lady” anachronism entirely. [h/t Maggie]


December 27, 2008 - Posted by | Feminism | ,

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